Distinguishing Training Needs from
Other Performance Problems - Training and Development

The Swanson Diagnosis Matrix (Swanson, 1994) provides a convenient framework for diagnosing performance problems. Built on the Rummler and Brach model (1995),this diagnostic tool examines the mission/goal, system design, capacity,motivation, and expertise within the organizational, process, and individual contexts.

Key questions in helping to determine performance questions are listed below:


Swanson's Performance Diagnosis Matrix

  1. What opportunities do you see to improve the performance of this organization?
  2. How do you know these opportunities exist?
  3. When did you first notice the problem?
  4. What data do you have that there are performance problems?
  5. How are the problems affecting your unit now?
  6. How are these opportunities related to the organization's goals?
  7. Have you taken any action to address the problems?
  8. What barriers do you see to making changes to improve performance?

Mission/Goals:Does the organization's mission/goals fit the reality of the economic,political, and cultural forces?



  1. Does the organization have clear mission/goals?
  2. Is the organization's mission/goals clearly articulated and communicated?
  3. Is the organization's strategic plan compatible with the organization's mission/goals?
  4. Does the organization's strategic direction support its mission/goals?
  5. Has the organization's strategy/direction been articulated and communicated?
  6. Does the organization's strategy make sense in terms of external threats and opportunities and internal strengths and weaknesses?
  7. Given this strategy, have the required outputs of the organization and the level of performance expected from each output been determined and articulated?
  8. Will the organization's strategic plan help, or at least not hinder, the organization's ability to meet external needs or demands?
  9. Will the mission/goals help the organization either to obtain or to maintain a competitive advantage?
  10. Have appropriate functional goals been set?
  11. Have the economic, political, and cultural forces that potentially affect the organization's mission/goals been identified?
  12. Are current economic conditions, both inside and outside the organization, conducive to efforts to meet the organization's mission/goals?
  13. Is the political climate, both inside and outside the organization, a facilitator or barrier to efforts to meet the organization's mission/goals?
  14. What role do cultural forces, both inside and outside the organization, play in efforts to meet the organization's mission/goals?

System Design: Does the organization's system provide structure and policies supporting desired performance?

  1. Are the interfaces between the functions being managed?
  2. Does the organization's current division into units or functions support the mission/goals and strategic plan of the organization?
  3. Are workgroups or teams organized in a way that supports the mission/ goals and strategic plan of the organization?
  4. Are the current systems, such as information and rewards, centralized or decentralized in a way that supports the mission/goals and strategic plan of the organization?
  5. Does the degree of consistency or variability of operations from one area to another support the mission/goals and strategic plan of the organization?
  6. Do organizational systems currently have the degree of flexibility required to support the mission/goals and strategic plan of the organization?
  7. Are all relevant functions in place?
  8. Are all functions necessary?
  9. Is the current flow of inputs and outputs between functions appropriate?
  10. Does the formal organizational structure support the strategy and enhance the effectiveness of the system?
  11. Have performance expectations been articulated and communicated for each function?

Capacity:Does the organization have the leadership, capital, and infrastructure to achieve its mission/goals?

  1. Are resources appropriately allocated?
  2. Will people have the budget or decision making authority they need to implement the system design components?
  3. Are there organizational measurements that will allow people to determine whether the organization's efforts have been successful?
  4. Do the people who will implement the process possess the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to make it work?
  5. Are on-the-job resources available to support the organization's employees?
  6. Are current time requirements or allowances for completing work compatible with the organization's mission/goals?
  7. Is the predictability of workload compatible with the organization's requirements?
  8. Will the overall workload be manageable?
  9. Are management's expectations of people reasonable?
  10. Does the current physical environment foster or inhibit the organization's efforts?
  11. Do people have the equipment, tools, materials, and information they need to work effectively and efficiently?
  12. Are support services or personnel needed and/or available?
  13. Are the resources people need easily accessible to them?
  14. Do current management and leadership practices support the mission/ goals and strategic plan of the organization?

Motivation:Do the policies, culture, and reward systems support the desired performance?

  1. Is there typically a match between what the organization states as values and the kind of behavior that is actually recognized and rewarded?
  2. Do current team norms about work behavior support the organization's mission/goals and strategic plan?
  3. Are the organization's mission/goals and strategic plan compatible with people's beliefs about integrity and ethical behavior?
  4. Is the way in which people receive feedback about their work compatible with the change in frequency, timing, and format?
  5. Are people currently rewarded and recognized for behavior that is compatible with the organization's mission/goals and strategic plan?
  6. Are current organizational expectations about work and work behavior compatible with what will be required to meet the organization's mission/goals and strategic plan?
  7. Will the efforts required to meet the mission/goals and strategic plan of the organization contribute to increasing or maintaining employee satisfaction?

Expertise:Does the organization establish and maintain selection and training policies and resources?

  1. Are current productivity levels sufficient to meet the requirements of the organization's mission/goals and strategic plan?
  2. Are work standards or criteria currently compatible with those required by the organization's mission/goals and strategic plan?
  3. Is relevant performance measured?
  4. Are appropriate selection criteria in place?
  5. Are effective training interventions developed and implemented?
  6. Are adequate resources allocated to employee development efforts?
  7. Are employee training policies focused on performance?
  8. Are training interventions adequately evaluated?

Mission/Goals:Do the process goals enable the organization to meet organizational and individual mission/goals?

  1. Have appropriate process goals been set?
  2. Are goals for key processes linked to customer and organization requirements?
  3. Has the organization clearly identified the mission/goals for its processes?
  4. Are the process mission/goals clearly articulated and communicated?
  5. Are the process mission/goals compatible with both the organization's mission/goals and strategic plan and the mission/goals of individual employees?
  6. Do the mission/goals identified for the processes support the organization's strategic plan and individual initiatives?
  7. Do the process mission/goals make sense in terms of external threats and opportunities and internal strengths and weaknesses?
  8. Have the required outputs of the processes and the level of performance expected from each output been determined and articulated?
  9. Will the process mission/goals help, or at least not hinder, the organization's ability to meet external needs or demands?
  10. Will the process mission/goals help the organization either obtain or maintain a competitive advantage?

System Design: Are processes designed in such a way to work as a system?

  1. Is this the most efficient and effective process for accomplishing the process goals?
  2. Does the workflow progress in a logical and systematic manner?
  3. Have appropriate process sub goals been set?
  4. Is process performance managed?
  5. Have process performance expectations been articulated and communicated?
  6. Have sufficient resources been allocated to each process?
  7. Are the interfaces between process steps being managed?
  8. Are the work procedures or processes supportive of the mission/goals and strategic plan of the organization?
  9. Is the current workflow designed to give efficient and effective support to the mission/goals and strategic plan of the organization?
  10. Is the design of work generally free of duplications of effort or gaps that could interfere with the mission/goals and strategic plan of the organization?
  11. Do the processes work together as a system to enhance organizational effectiveness?

Capacity:Does the process have the capacity to perform (quantity, quality, and timeliness)?

  1. Are the time constraints associated with the process design too restrictive?
  2. Can the process produce a high-quality output given the related time constraints?
  3. Are all resources required for the process adequately available?
  4. Do employees have easy access to the resources needed for process implementation?
  5. Are the resources required the most suitable for the process?

Motivation:Does the process provide the information and human factors required to maintain it?

  1. Does the process produce intrinsic rewards that serve as motivators for individuals and employee groups?
  2. Are feedback mechanisms built into the process that generate information to the employees required to work within the constraints of the process?
  3. Does the process take the individual into consideration? In other words, does the process include components or steps that would serve as motivational factors to individuals involved in the process?
  4. Is the technical design of the process user friendly for individuals working within them?
  5. Is all the information needed for effective process performance readily available?

Expertise:Does the process of developing expertise meet the changing demands of the changing processes?

  1. Is expertise defined for each step of the process?
  2. When the processes change, are appropriate expertise development opportunities made available?
  3. Is employee expertise sufficiently broad to allow processes to change?

Mission/Goals:Are the professional and personal mission/goals of individuals congruent with the organization's?

  1. Do the performers understand the job goals (the outputs they are expected to produce and the standards they are expected to meet)?
  2. Do the performers know whether they are meeting the job goals?
  3. Are the performers rewarded for meeting the job goals?
  4. Are individual goals congruent with organization and process goals?

System Design: Does the individual face obstacles that impede job performance?

  1. Are job outputs and standards linked to process requirements? Are process requirements in turn linked to customer and organization requirements?
  2. Are process requirements reflected in the appropriate jobs?
  3. Are job steps in a logical sequence?
  4. Have supportive policies and procedures been developed?
  5. Is the job environment ergonomically sound?
  6. Can the performer easily recognize the input requiring action?
  7. Is the current assignment of job functions or tasks appropriate to support the mission/goals and strategic plan of the organization?
  8. Have barriers to performance been removed where possible?

Capacity:Does the individual have the mental, physical, and emotional capacity to perform?

  1. Are adequate resources available to enhance individual performance (time,information, etc.)?
  2. Is the individual "right" for the job?
  3. Do people have the confidence they need to meet the organization's mission/goals?
  4. Does the individual have the potential to improve or change performance when necessary?

Expertise:Does the individual have the knowledge, skills, and experience to perform?

  1. Have the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to adequately perform the job been identified?
  2. Has the individual been evaluated for the required knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA's)?
  3. Has the individual been adequately trained for the job?
  4. Can the individual continue to develop to meet future job requirements?

We have already noted that the chief test for a training need is just this:

Does the employee know how to meet the performance standards for an accountable task?Accordingly, you will note that there is only one cell in this entire matrix that pertains to training problems: the analysis of expertise at the individual level.

If the answer is "Yes, the employee knows how," there is no training need.

There is a performance problem; but it isn't a training need because more training will not solve the problem. The employee already knows how. There must be other obstacles to satisfactory performance. Thus, the remaining cells in the matrix do not warrant training solutions.

We can look at those other obstacles later. For the moment, let's just make sure we know what a training need is. A training need exists when an employee lacks the knowledge or skill to perform an assigned task satisfactorily.
This statement implies standards of performance. That may or may not be true: Not every organization has established standards for every task—and lots of standards have been informally established, but never documented. If there are no standards against which employee performance can be measured, it's very hard to conclude that the employee is not performing properly. Nevertheless, the T&D specialist, in the role of consultant, often gets into precisely that situation. Managers are dissatisfied with employees performances, but haven't identified precisely what level of performance would satisfy them. That often happens when new jobs are established, when the technology is altered, or when procedures are modified. It can also happen when employees begin to neglect old tasks, or perform tasks indifferently, or perform in ways that are not up to their manager's tacit expectations.

What can the T&D manager do in the face of such vague specifications?
Well,this is one time when questioning skills are very, very useful. The reputation of the T&D department doesn't gain much respect if T&D specialists just say,"Well, when you make up your mind what you want, get in touch!" This is the perfect chance to ask direct questions to uncover the facts and to ask open questions to discover feelings, and then to reflect upon the manager's frustration over the performance problems back on the job and the hard thinking you're asking for in this consultation.

Far better that the T&D specialist and the perplexed client-manager mutually explore the issue to determine what level of performance would satisfy the manager whose people present a problem. Thus T&D specialists, acting in the role of consultant, can be heard asking things such as, "When you envision workers doing this job properly, what do you see them doing?" "What specific things would you like to see them doing—but don't?" "When you walk up to workers to tell them they're doing well, what specific things do you praise?"

"When you correct them for doing things the wrong way, what specific things do you ask them to avoid?" "What do you ask them to be certain to do in the future?"

Even though the answers to such questions are not yet sanctioned (or is the proper word "sanctified"?) by being published in procedures manuals, the T&D Specialist has begun the standards-setting process. The next decision is whether the new "specification" is a reasonable expectation of workers.

At this stage, astute T&D managers try

  1. to involve several managers,
  2. to reach agreement without pain or "lose/lose" relationships,
  3. to clarify goals and start the evaluation process by discussing what "thing swill look like when we have succeeded," and
  4. to plant the idea of positive reinforces for those workers who meet standards after the change effort. The truly wise ones also
  5. conduct a reality test by involving workers themselves.

Workers' comments will do many things:

  • Explain whether prescribed/recommended standards are reasonable
  • Uncover interesting and productive information about hidden task interferences and conflicting consequences
  • Help identify useful feedback data that might let them know how they're doing while they're performing
  • Tell the T&D specialist whether the job aids (present training, written procedures,and job descriptions) are accurate (all too often they are not)

In gaining helpful inputs from managers and workers while defining performance standards,T&D representatives will be implanting that important concept that organizations get their work done because people fill their positions properly.They "put out the proper outputs." Positions, in turn, are made up of responsibilities; these, in turn, are discharged by the proper completion of various tasks. To set standards, we define those tasks by specifying the actions to be taken and the criteria of successful completion.

In many standards-setting conversations, it's necessary to point out that "criteria"is just a big word to describe what makes the work "okay" and what makes it "not okay." This includes data about what's right and wrong; it also includes data about how many in what period of time.

Once the actions and criteria are identified, performance conditions need to be considered;these include what the worker is given to work with and what happens when there are variations in working conditions. For example: a customer service representative who deals with the public may be encouraged to ask a pleasant question of customers. That's a "standard of performance"—unless there are more than three people waiting in line! Under those conditions, the pleasant question may be sacrificed in favor of speedy service to all three customers.

When determining standards, it's useful to think in certain terms: numbers—such as hours, units, requests, completions dollars—sales, unit costs, resources consumed, hours-of-effort multiplied by salary-per-hour percent—of overtime,turnover, rejects, or utilization time lapse—such as flow time, set-up,inventory turnover completions—shipments, acceptance, milestones Skill in writing performance standards, or at least in describing human behavior, is a"must" for all T&D managers and specialists. Some organizations have begun to train managers from all departments in how to define performance standards.One such firm (Kemper Insurance Companies) has conducted workshops so that line managers become trainers for workshops at which still other line managers learn how to develop standards for their subordinates.

Temperatures the importance of developing the actual standards as a joint effort between the manager and the subordinate—not as a product of staff trainers.

Once the standards are agreed upon by key people in the client department, the T&D specialist is ready to ask that all-important question: "Do the people who must meet these standards possess the knowledge and skill to do so right now?" If the answer is yes, no training is indicated.

For newcomers, that seldom happens. They rarely know how to do their new jobs perfectly. For them, we have discovered a training need. It does not follow,however, that newcomers need training in all facets of their positions.
Even newcomers have some ability and some knowledge, and we call this their "inventory."If we match the inventory against the standard we have set, we have a possible training need.

What the employee must do to meet the standard can be represented by the letter For minimum mastery, or "must do." From this M we subtract the inventory to discover what the newcomer needs to learn to perform properly.

The test is somewhat different for employees who are already incumbent in their positions. We can again let M represent what the worker must do; from that we still subtract the I, or inventory. But this time the inventory is what the worker is actually doing now. The difference between the M and the I is a potential training need. We now have a formula for potential training needs:

M- I = A potential training need.
The word "potential" is accurate. Why? Because with incumbents we are not yet certain that the reason for difference is lack of knowledge or skill. We don't yet know that they do not know how. Only if the reason for the difference is their not knowing how do we have a training need.
It's helpful to regard the distance between the "must do" and the "misdoing" as a deficiency. We can put this into our formula by assigning it the letter D.
Now our formula looks like this:
M- I = D.
At this stage we are now ready to consider several different types of deficiency.
When employees don't know how, we call this DK for "deficiency of knowledge."All DKs are regarded as training needs. If the difference between the"must do" and the "is doing" stems from other causes, we consider it a "deficiency of execution" and call it a DE. What"other causes" might there be? To name a few: lack of feedback, badly engineered jobs, or punishing consequences.

DEs are not solvable through training.

Sometimes people know how to do the job, but have so little practice that they cannot maintain a satisfactory level of performance. This might be called a DP, or"deficiency of practice." Training in the form of drill may solve DP problems.(But one just has to ask why the manager of these inventories let them go to waste!)

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